Following a snow delay, a court-appointed special master will hear testimony Monday from Democrats and Republicans on proposed redistricting maps which largely preserve the boundaries of Connecticut’s five congressional districts.
The special master, Nathaniel Persily, was assigned by the state Supreme Court in late December after the legislature’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission failed to come to an agreement on the once-in-a-decade task of ensuring each district has an equal number of residents. Persily, a constitutional law professor at Stanford University, served in the same capacity 10 years ago.
In light of guidance by the court, both parties submitted briefs with plans that largely preserve the state’s congressional districts as they are currently arranged.
“The Proposed Plan makes minimal revisions to the existing district lines, making the ‘least changes’ necessary to create a map that complies with the Order,” the Democrats on the commission wrote in their brief to the court.
The map the court eventually approves must create five districts, each with around 721,000 residents and must shift more than 21,000 people into the under-populated 2nd District while removing more than 25,000 people from the crowded 4th District.
The plan proposed by Democrats moves no municipality into an entirely new district and shifts the district lines of only four towns, which were already divided between two congressional districts. Those towns are Glastonbury, Middleton, Shelton, and Torrington.
In accordance with the court’s order, Republicans also submitted a plan making minimal changes to the district lines. The GOP’s map proposed to leave the districts with an average 96.5% retention and sees only four towns, Glastonbury, Middletown, Shelton, and Waterbury, split between two districts.
However, in their brief Republicans continued to urge the court to consider more substantial changes. Specifically, they asked the special master to consider making the 1st District more compact, simplifying its current “lobster claw” shape. The jagged crescent shape, which reaches west from Hartford, was created to ensure incumbents could run for reelection when Connecticut lost its 6th District in 2001.
“This created the First District’s bizarre shape, which fails to comport with traditional redistricting principles,” Republicans wrote. They argued that it did not reflect “good government” principles and a map adhering to those principles “would be more fair and representative of the Connecticut electorate than the ‘least change’ map called for in the Court’s December 23, 2021 order.”
However, in that order, the state Supreme Court instructed Persily to “modify the existing congressional districts only to the extent reasonably required” to ensure each district is contiguous, complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and contains a roughly equal population.
The court has instructed Persily to turn over his redistricting plan by Jan. 18 and expects to submit its decision to the Secretary of the State’s Office by Feb. 15. It was unclear whether the snow delay of Friday’s public hearing would impact those deadlines.
Monday’s public hearing, which will be conducted remotely, is expected to be well attended. As of Friday, a dozen speakers were signed up to testify including the Reapportionment Commission’s bipartisan chairs, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and House Speaker Matt Ritter. In addition to a handful of other legislators, state Republican Chairman Ben Proto was also expected to speak as was Ted Bromley from the Secretary of the State’s Office.
Although the court was left with the task of approving a congressional map when the redistricting panel failed to reach an agreement, the group did complete its two other tasks and approved new maps for the state House and Senate back in November.